Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The PGA Championship Preview

"See you in 2012."
Luke Donald is the #1 player in the world and a popular pick to win the PGA Championship despite the fact that he’s never finished higher than 3rd in a major and has not won a stroke play event on the PGA Tour since the 2006 Honda Classic.  (People make too big a deal about winning the Accenture Match Play where you only have to beat six players as opposed to a stroke play event where you have to beat 155).  Only three of the current top ten players have won a major and they have combined to win a measly total of six (Mickelson - 4, McIlroy - 1, Kaymer -1).  Five years ago at this time, seven of the top ten had won a major and they had combined to win twenty-four  (Tiger - 11, Mickelson - 3, Singh – 3, Els – 3, Goosen – 2, Furyk -1, Ogilvy – 1).  Even if you take Tiger out of the equation, the top ten in 2006 includes six major winners with a combined thirteen major titles.  When you consider that all of those players from 2006 (except maybe Ogilvy) are on the downside of their careers, it is clear that we are in a changing of the guard period in golf.  (It is also clear that when a 40 year old like Jim Furyk pockets $10M, his game will suffer the following year and you should avoid him like two day old sushi).  The question is who will be the next Mickelson, Singh, Els and Goosen?  If you can answer that, you’ve got a good shot at picking this week’s winner. 
This year we’ve had a slew of players who took turns bringing their “A” game, particularly on Sundays.  Time and again a top 20 player took the lead on the back nine on Sunday against a great field and simply refused to let anyone else catch him like Adam Scott did last weekend?   Rory McIlroy did it for the whole U.S. Open but he also birdied the first hole on Sunday to remove any doubt.  Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win the Masters.  Phil Mickelson did it at Houston (Phil is our carryover guy from the old guard to the new guard), Steve Stricker at the Memorial, Nick Watney at the AT&T, Bubba Watson at the Farmers and Luke Donald at the Accenture (I’ll give him some credit for beating Kuchar and Kaymer in the final four).  Some of those tournaments ended close but the players who won all took the lead and held it so that’s eight guys who have demonstrated this year that, if they bring their “A” game against the best, they’re going to win. 
Now throw in Dustin Johnson (2nd at the British and 3rd at the last PGA), Jason Day (2nd at the Masters and the U.S. Open), Rickie Fowler (5th at the British and 2nd at Bridgestone), Lee Westwood (2nd in the world rankings), Martin Kaymer (3rd in the world rankings) and Matt Kuchar (11th in the world rankings).  That’s fourteen guys who could win multiple majors over the next three years making them favorites to win this weekend.  
First, we need to eliminate the seven guys in Rob Bolton’s PGATour.com’s rankings (Donald, Westwood, Day, McIlroy, Scott, Stricker and D. Johnson) because he basically picks the same players every week with little or no creativity.  His go to move is to pick players who have been playing well leading-up to the event but when you’re picking guys at the top of the world rankings, that’s kind of a worthless analysis as they’re all playing pretty well.  Also consider that Adam Scott’s last five PGA Tour finishes before his win were T25, T3, Cut, T65, Cut so Bolton didn’t have him in his Top 10. 
His outside the box picks this week are Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and David Toms.  He’s presumably picking Toms because he won at Atlanta Athletic Club (“AAC”) ten years ago which means little more than, about this time ten years ago, David Toms played some really good golf.  In support of his Johnson pick, he writes, “[p]otential destiny awaits, given that David Toms famously laid up on the 72nd hole here in 2001 and ZJ won the 2007 Masters laying up on all of the par 5s.”  Huh?  Why not pick David Horsey because a guy named David won at AAC in 2001?  Makes just as much sense.  Webb Simpson’s unique swing tends to get a little too unique under regular tournament pressure so I don’t envision him holding the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. 
That leaves seven of my fourteen favorites and I’m dropping Kaymer and Schwartzel because I don’t see Kaymer going back-to-back and Schwartzel is not a “two majors in one season” player.  So along with my five "A" players, I'm adding five more and I’m going with:
"Everything is going
to be OK America."
1.  Nick Watney - It’s his time.  He is the best American golfer right now and “we” are due considering “we’ve” been shutout since the 2010 Masters.  Two wins against strong fields this year have me less concerned about the constant deer in the headlights look.  I think that’s just how he looks.  I wonder how big his eyes would get if he ever stared into some headlights.      
2.  Matt Kuchar - He’s going to win a major at some point and now would be a good time because I think his big goofy smile might be infectious enough to make everyone forget about the economy for five minutes.   
3.  Fredrik Jacobson - Every time the camera cuts to him lately he’s draining a 15-20 foot putt and the announcers are talking about what a great ping pong player he is – both critical ingredients for a major championship run.         
4.  Phil Mickelson - Not a very shrewd pick last week but he fit the Top Gun theme.  This week I actually think he’s going to be a factor which is “pretty arrogant, considering the company he’s in.”  Okay I’ll stop.              
5.  Tiger Woods - Took ten weeks off and then tied for 37th on a tough course against the best field in golf.  I would love to see him win, roll his eyes and say “well it wasn’t the BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE but it’s good to be back.”   
6. Rickie Fowler - After gagging away the 4th round of the AT&T, he’s been solid on Sunday at the British Open and the Bridgestone.  I think he’s figuring it out and is top 10 material this week.  If he’s somehow in the final group with Tiger on Sunday, CBS will have you believing they are the only two on the course.  
7. Bubba Watson - Bubba hasn’t contended in a major this year but his good weeks tend to come out of nowhere so I like his chances on a 7,467 yard par 70 course with two 500+ yard par 4’s and a 260 yard par 3.  By the way, on Sunday at Firestone, he hit a driver and a 4 iron onto the 16th green.  The 16th hole is 667 yards long.  That’s obscene.      
8. Sergio Garcia - This does not mean I like him but I am confident he is going to win a major at some point so we might as well get it over with.  
"Relax Levin.  We've
got this under control."
9. Spencer Levin - AAC does not look like a course for a grinder but I had to make room for my boy.  If he’s in contention on Sunday, he’s going to rip through more butts than Robert De Niro in Casino. 
10.  David Hutsell - He’s the teaching pro at the club down the road from my house playing in his second consecutive PGA Championship.  He’s been on fire lately so don’t be surprised if he’s one of the club pros on the leaderboard early.  The only issue is that he’s playing with Spencer Levin for the first two days so maintaining concentration is going to be key.
So there you have it.  50% process of elimination, 40% analysis and 20% gut call (because I gave 110% on these picks).  All I ask is that we have one major this year where the last putt of the tournament actually matters and it’s either hit by one of my picks ....or a guy who was hosing off golf carts last Sunday.